The Negotiator

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This article is about the film. For the unrelated novel, see The Negotiator (novel).
The Negotiator
Theatrical release poster
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Produced by David Hoberman
Arnon Milchan
Written by James DeMonaco
Kevin Fox
Starring Samuel L. Jackson
Kevin Spacey
David Morse
Ron Rifkin
John Spencer
J. T. Walsh
Music by Graeme Revell
Cinematography Russell Carpenter
Edited by Christian Wagner
Regency Enterprises
Mandeville Films
New Regency
Monarchy Enterprises
Taurus Films
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • July 29, 1998 (1998-07-29)
Running time
140 minutes
Country Germany
United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $44.5 million[1]

The Negotiator is a 1998 American action thriller film about two hostage lieutenants, directed by F. Gary Gray, and stars Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.


Lieutenant Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson), a top Chicago Police Department hostage negotiator, is approached by his partner Nate Roenick (Paul Guilfoyle) who warns him that large sums of money are being embezzled from the department's disability fund, for which Danny is a board member, and members of their own unit are involved. Nate claims to have an informant whom he refuses to name. When Danny goes to meet with him again he finds Nate murdered seconds before other police arrive, pinning him as the prime suspect.

Things only get worse for Danny when Internal Affairs investigator Terence Niebaum (J. T. Walsh), whom Nate's informant suspected of involvement in the embezzlement, is assigned to investigate the murder. Niebaum discovers that Nate was killed with a gun from a case Danny had worked. He and other investigators search Danny's house the following morning and claim to have found papers for an offshore bank account with a deposit equal to one of the amounts of money embezzled. Danny is made to surrender his gun and badge and hardly anyone believes his protests of innocence. Facing the possibility of serious charges within a day, Danny storms into Niebaum's office and questions Niebaum about any involvement with the fund and who set him up. When Niebaum refuses to answer, Danny takes Niebaum, his administrative assistant Maggie (Siobhan Fallon), police commander Grant Frost (Ron Rifkin), and two-bit con man Rudy Timmons (Paul Giamatti) as hostages.

With the building evacuated and placed under siege by police (including his own unit) and the FBI, Danny issues his conditions, which include finding Nate's informant and summoning police Lt. Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), another top negotiator. Danny wants Sabian because he is from another side of the city and therefore unconnected to the pension fund matter, has a reputation for negotiating as long as possible before using force, and should be one of the few people Danny can trust. Despite temporarily putting Sabian in charge after an attempted raid on Danny goes poorly, the police doubt Sabian's methods.

While Sabian tries to come up with a solution, Rudy and Maggie help Danny access Niebaum's computer; he discovers recordings of bugs and wiretaps, including his last conversation with Nate. Sabian tries to bluff Danny and the police with an unrelated man who claims to be Nate's informant but Niebaum's files reveal that Nate himself was the actual informant and had passed his evidence on to the IAD. Niebaum finally admits that he took bribes from the guilty parties to cover up their crimes, and he implicates many of Danny's squad mates in the conspiracy but does not know who the ringleader is. The same conspirators have entered the room via the air vents under the pretext of being part of a team to take Danny out in case he started killing hostages; upon hearing Niebaum's confession, they open fire and kill Niebaum before he can reveal where he has hidden corroborating evidence of their guilt. Danny single-handedly fights them off using the flashbangs he confiscated from the officers in the previous failed raid.

Believing that Sabian and the police have lost control of the situation, especially after Sabian's bluff with the informant, the FBI relieve Sabian and order a full breach. Sabian now believes Danny and gives him a chance to prove his innocence, helping him to sneak out of the building during the FBI SWAT assault by wearing a confiscated police uniform while the police save the hostages. Danny and Sabian proceed to Niebaum's house, but cannot find the evidence there. The police arrive and the dirty members of Danny's squad surround the house but they back off as Frost enters the house to try to talk Danny down while Frost secretly loads his weapon. Sabian realizes Frost is the ringleader and Nate's killer.

In front of Frost, Sabian suddenly shoots Danny and offers to destroy the evidence they have uncovered in return for "a piece of the pie" from Frost. Frost agrees and effectively makes a full admission to his crimes, but when he leaves the house, he finds the whole area surrounded by police. Danny had feigned death and Frost's admission of guilt was broadcast over the police radio. Frost attempts to kill himself but is disarmed and arrested. As Danny is loaded into an ambulance, Sabian gives him back his badge and departs.


Production notes[edit]

The film is dedicated to J. T. Walsh, who died several months before the film's release.

The building used for the IAD office is 77 West Wacker Drive, the headquarters of United Airlines.

When it was made, The Negotiator's $50 million budget was the highest ever given to an African-American director.[2]

Factual basis[edit]

This film's conspiracy plotline is loosely based on the pension fund scandal in the St. Louis Police Department in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[3]


Critical response[edit]

The film received a generally positive critical response and a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. Emanuel Levy of Variety wrote: "Teaming for the first time Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, arguably the two best actors of their generation, in perfectly fitting roles is a shrewd move and the best element of this fact-inspired but overwrought thriller."

Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, calls The Negotiator "a triumph of style over story, and of acting over characters...Much of the movie simply consists of closeups of the two of them talking, but it's not simply dialogue because the actors make it more--invest it with conviction and urgency..."[4]

Mick LaSalle, in his less-than-enthusiastic review for the San Francisco Chronicle, had the most praise for Spacey's performance: "Kevin Spacey is the main reason to see "The Negotiator"...Spacey's special gift is his ability to make sanity look radiant...In "The Negotiator," as in "L.A. Confidential," he gives us a man uniquely able to accept, face and deal with the truth."[5]


Award Category Subject Result
Saturn Award Best Action or Adventure Film David Hoberman & Arnon Milchan Nominated
American Black Film Festival Black Film Award for Best Film Won
Black Film Award for Best Director F. Gary Gray Won
Black Film Award for Best Actor Samuel L. Jackson Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Actor - Action/Adventure Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Nominated


  1. ^ "The Negotiator Box Office". Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  2. ^ [1] Archived June 10, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Police Official Seized As Hostage in Missouri. New York Times (1988-09-04). Retrieved on 2013-11-17.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 29, 1998). "THE NEGOTIATOR". Chicago Sun-Times ( Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  5. ^ LaSalle, Mick (July 29, 1998). "Spacey, Jackson Negotiate A Fun Action-Drama Flick". San Francisco Chronicle ( Retrieved 7 October 2015. 

External links[edit]